The Father of American Policing

Name a modern police technique or technology and there’s probably an influence that can be traced back to Berkeley’s once-famous chief August Vollmer. Berkeley’s top cop from 1906 to 1932, Vollmer was a force for the professionalization of the police. He’s responsible for the squad car and police radio dispatch; he instituted the first training academy in the Bay; he promoted fingerprinting for investigations and set up the first crime lab at UC Berkeley. One of his protégés even invented the lie detector. Vollmer also hired the first female officer as well as Black officers. For a brief year, he was even tasked with reforming the LAPD, but the city’s immense corruption was too much. The Berkeley Historical Society has put together a Vollmer exhibit which includes photos and artifacts curated by Willard Oliver, a professor of Criminal Justice at Sam Houston State University. Though Vollmer wasn’t the neatly progressive cop his biographers portray him as (for example, he played instrumental role in training right-wing foreign police units in Cuba and China), the exhibit is worth checking out.

Through September 30, free, 1931 Center St, Berkeley, BerkeleyHistoricalSociety.org.

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